2 days, 3 protests: Butler County residents ‘standing for justice’ in peaceful crowds

Protesters marched through two Butler County downtowns on Wednesday as speakers and organizers continued to call for change in police activity in the wake of a Minnesota man’s death in police custody.

The events in Middletown and Hamilton followed a gathering in West Chester Twp. on Tuesday night that peacefully brought together Butler County residents, protesters from downtown Cincinnati and police.

Events Wednesday began with several dozen people gathering at the Middletown city building at about 3:15 p.m. and marching through downtown, chanting and holding signs. They circled back to the city building and ended their event after about 45 minutes.

During the same time, a group marched through Hamilton and stopped at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and High Street. It grew to more than 100 people by about 6 p.m.

Participants said they wanted action to improve the safety of black residents and relations with police, a message spread throughout the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.

“I’d like to see some things codified,” said Vanessa Enoch, who attended the Middletown protest. “I’d like to see us pass laws and legislation that prevents this kind of thing from happening. Legislation such as use of force policies. Legislation that would prevent a police officer from saying they feared for their lives when someone is running away from them.”

She added that “police and community relations need to change. We are in full support of having law enforcement, but we believe that law enforcement should work with the citizens and for the citizens, not against them.”

Another attendee in Middletown, Cameron Calhoun, said he wants specific steps taken to address concerns about safety and police activity.

“I hope to see some actionable things happen, where you start to get some change and things start to be reformed, and you start to see some practices put in place that look like an effort,” he said.

The afternoon Hamilton event was organized by two high school students, Connor Gordon, who will be a Hamilton High School junior in the fall, and Jxy Gordon, who will be a junior attending an online school.

“The dead don’t have a voice, so we’re standing for justice,” Connor Gordon said.

Prosecution of officers for such deaths would help relations, he said, as would other officers confronting and turning in those who are acting against rules and laws.

Jxy Gordon added that she helped to organize the protest because people should be able to walk freely without fear of being shot. She praised the crowd in the afternoon rally and Hamilton police for being on the scene and even assisting the march.

On Tuesday night, a crowd gathered at the West Chester Clock Tower for a protest that grew by the attendance of some who had been protesting in downtown Cincinnati earlier in the day.

The event began about 6:30 p.m. with speeches and chants began. As the protest was happening, the West Chester trustees convened a conference call meeting and voted to install a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for 30 days. Township Administrator Larry Burks can change the time, and the curfew can be revoked by another vote of the trustees.

The crowd stayed until about 10:30 p.m. with no arrests and no issues, police said.

Jesse Grabert, a West Chester resident and mother of five, planned to just have a few friends join her and her kids to share a moment because things have been volatile.

“I believe I was put on this earth to be a servant to the community, to people in need and I eat breathe and sleep world peace, justice and changing the world for the better for children and their children’s children,” she said about why she organized the event.

“My son, who’s 16, has been watching everything and it’s been really, really heavy on his heart watching everything on TV and on social media. He said Mom can we do anything and I said well you know I want to keep you guys safe and it could be safe one second and it just takes one person, I said what if we just went down to the Clock Tower where we go watch concerts in the summer and what if we just got together and prayed for our friends and our community and we pray for peace.”

West Chester officers went down on their knees along with protesters and allowed them space to form a circle to listen to speeches from a mix of those from West Chester and those who traveled from the Cincinnati events.

West Chester police Chief Joel Herzog said “change happens” through peaceful protests like what was held in his township Tuesday night.

“This demonstration, protest, whatever you want to call it, is absolutely OK in West Chester,” he said. “This is positive. This is how change happens - open dialogue, discussion. There’s some passion going on. There’s some prayer going on.”

Denorver Garrett, a 2010 Lakota East graduate and senior at Kentucky State Christian University, said he drove three hours from Grayson, Ky., to West Chester, to ensure the protest was peaceful. As he looked around the Clock Tower, Garrett was asked what he saw.

“Unity,” the 28-year-old said. “We don’t want to be violent. What the world is showing in the media, that’s not what we want. You can feel the peace here.”

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